The Gifts of the Holy Spirit
The last couple of posts have been introducing the gifts of the Holy Spirit and I can just hear at least a few of you saying, “OK, great. So what, EXACTLY, are the gifts of the Holy Spirit?!” Well, today is your sort of lucky day!
If you look for a definitive list of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, you are likely to end up being a bit confused. Some lists are rather short, some are rather long, and most land somewhere in the middle. The reality is that scripture has multiple places where gifts of the Holy Spirit are mentioned, and none of the lists provided are the same. There is some overlap, yes, but some gifts are only listed in one place. Additionally, different translations will use different words to name some of the gifts as the original Greek isn’t always clearly, easily, and directly translatable into English.
If that doesn’t create enough confusion for you, then you get add in the blurred line between what is a gift from the Holy Spirit and what is a natural skill, ability, or talent that is simply part of your personality. For example, is being a gifted musician a gift from the Holy Spirit? Or is it something you have a natural ability towards that you have been given the opportunity to develop? Or is it a spiritual gift when you are leading worship and a natural ability when playing in the marching band or orchestra?
For our study, we are going to look at three passages in Scripture which are three of the primary texts used when talking about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. First off, let’s take a look at what is, perhaps, the most commonly used text found in 1 Corinthians 12. Here, Paul is writing to the church in Corinth, a church he knew well from having spent time among them in his early days of ministry. Paul has received reports of quarreling within the Corinthian church and sets out to address the issue straight on. As a result, 1 Corinthians deals largely with how we are to live with one another and how the church is supposed to function.
Chapter 12 in particular addresses the use of Spiritual Gifts within the congregation. Starting in verse eight, Paul highlights the gifts of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, healing, effecting of miracles, prophecy, distinguishing of spirits, various kinds of tongues, and interpretation of tongues. For each gift, Paul emphasizes that they are given by the Holy Spirit to various people. He further emphasizes that each gift was a role to play in the following verses as he compares the body of Christ to our human bodies. Just as our human bodies have many parts to them, so does the body of Christ. And just as our human bodies work best when all parts are healthy and working as they were designed to work, so does the body of Christ with the gifts given to its individual members by the Holy Spirit.
The next passage we will be using as we talk about spiritual gifts is from Romans 12. Here again we see Paul using the analogy of the body and emphasizing that each person is given different gifts to use in service to the Church. Romans 12:6-8 highlights the gifts of prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading, and showing mercy. Already we can see some overlap with 1 Corinthians 12 but also a lot of different gifts are mentioned. A significant part of the explanation is that the audience to which Paul is writing is different.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul is writing to a church he has yet to visit instead of a church at which he has already spent significant time. While he did personally know some people within the Roman church, and it is almost certain they have heard of Paul before receiving this letter, there is not the same personal connection he has with the Corinthian church. He is writing to a church which has not yet experienced much in the way of pressure or persecution from the young Emperor Nero (that would come a few years later when Nero makes Christians the scapegoats for the great Roman fire in AD 64). Instead, Paul is writing to provide the Roman church with a basic, systematic presentation of Christian doctrine so the leaders of the Roman church can be sure they have a firm foundation from which to build the local church and disciple new believers. His letter to the Romans, as part of our modern canon of Scripture, continues to provide this clear and systematic presentation of Christian doctrine for the Church today.
The final passage we will be using to define our list of spiritual gifts is from Ephesians four. As soon as I remind you that the author of the letter to the Ephesians is our good friend Paul, I am betting you can guess what analogy is once again employed as he speaks of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. That’s right! The body of Christ. This letter, written from prison in Rome, deals with topics at the very core of what it means to be a Christian. It is less personal and more formal, perhaps because he is older and wiser, or perhaps because he is writing from prison, or perhaps because that is the tone he feels he need to take with the Ephesian church. Regardless, Paul is not responding to a particular theological or moral problem but is wanting to help this particular protect against future problems by encouraging them to mature in their faith. Given this, it makes sense that the passage in Ephesians 4 is relatively brief when it comes to spiritual gifts. He lists only five (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers) and all are listed in Ephesians 4:11.
In listing the gifts all together we are left with:
- Word of Knowledge
- Effecting of Miracles
- Distinguishing of Spirits (also commonly called Discernment)
- Tongues (or speaking in unknown languages)
- Interpretation of Tongues
- Exhortation (also known as encouraging/encouragement)
- Showing Mercy (also known as compassion)
What ties these gifts together is their origin, the Holy Spirit, and their purpose. They are given so that the Church, the body of Christ in the world, may be fully equipped to do the work God has called us to do on this earth.
In the coming weeks, we will dive more deeply into what exactly are each of the gifts and why are they important for the church still today. We will also be diving into some of the different ways each of these gifts might be expressed in our world today. We hope you’ll check out the rest of the posts in the series!